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Black Rams and Extravagant Strangers: Shakespeare’s Othello and its Rewritings, from Nineteenth-Century Burlesque to Post-Colonial Tragedy

Rosario, Catherine. 2015. Black Rams and Extravagant Strangers: Shakespeare’s Othello and its Rewritings, from Nineteenth-Century Burlesque to Post-Colonial Tragedy. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The labyrinthine levels through which Othello moves, as Shakespeare draws on myriad theatrical forms in adapting a bald little tale, gives his characters a scintillating energy, a refusal to be domesticated in language. They remain as Derridian monsters, evading any enclosures, with the tragedy teetering perilously close to farce. Because of this fragility of identity, and Shakespeare’s radical decision to have a black tragic protagonist, Othello has attracted subsequent dramatists caught in their own identity struggles. Nineteenth-century white burlesquers, anxious to bolster their sense of themselves as superior human beings in the face of abolitionist movements that insist on the inhumanity of enslaving Africans, forced the play into the shape of an unambiguous farce, where Othello is an absurd and foolish minstrel, denied the gravitas of death. Since the 1960s, writers throughout Britain’s former empire have, in contrast, retrieved the play’s tragic energy, as part of instating themselves into a history from which they have been excluded. In these later rewritings, a fault-line emerges between ‘race’ and gender, since in Othello a zero sum game operates, where increasing the empathy for Desdemona as a woman cruelly treated undermines the focus on Othello as a tragic black hero.
Tragedy distances its characters from what makes us animal, and comedy delights in it, with those who are marginalised traditionally thrust into a comedic identity, while white, male abstract thought is seen as providing transcendence from our bestial state. Hence, the desire for post-colonial writers to adopt the masculine form of tragedy. However, as the value of this form of thinking has been progressively questioned, so this is changing how Othello is approached, which I reflect in my own practice: I explore, in The Turn, how tragedy gives a protagonist pathos through its aesthetic structure, but I then write a form of what I would call tragi-burlesque, Ponte Dell Tette, where I let go a little of the hegemony of the word, push against the borders of logic and linearity, try to keep the characters as untamed monsters. It is my goal to use my research and practice to help me further to walk this tightrope between the power of tragedy and the animal freedom of absurdist comedy.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00014856

Keywords:

Shakespeare, Othello, post-colonial, burlesque, tragedy, comedy, Iago, Desdemona

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)

Date:

31 August 2015

Item ID:

14856

Date Deposited:

16 Nov 2015 14:31

Last Modified:

09 Jul 2018 13:07

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/14856

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